Failing news outlet Vice Media receives cash boost from George Soros

Vice Media, looking to revitalize its flagging business, has gotten a $250 million cash infusion from an investment consortium that includes billionaire George Soros.

The company’s new debt financing was led by 23 Capital, a financing firm focused exclusively on sports, music and entertainment sectors, with participation by Soros Fund Management, Fortress Investment Group and Monroe Capital, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal Friday.

“With this capital investment, Vice’s growth plans can be accelerated, allowing us to execute our new leadership’s strategic vision for the company,” a Vice rep said in a statement.

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The once high-flying Vice has suffered a shortfall in revenue goals, and laid off about 250 employees, or 10% of its staff, earlier this year.

Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc, hired last year to lead the company’s turnaround efforts, has set a target of achieving profitability within the next fiscal year. The ex-CEO of A+E Networks restructured the company around five lines of business: digital, news, Vice Studios (film and TV production), the Viceland cable channel (a partnership with A+E), and in-house ad agency Virtue. “Having finalized the 2019 budget, our focus shifts to executing our goals and hitting our marks,” Dubuc wrote in a Feb. 1 memo to employees about the reorg.

The Brooklyn-based youth-culture company, launched 25 years ago as a punk-culture magazine in Montreal, was valued at $5.7 billion less than two years ago. Since then, its valuation has dropped: Disney disclosed a $157 million write-down on its Vice equity stake last year. Vice previously raised about $1.4 billion from investors including TPG Capital, which plowed $450 million into the company in the summer of 2017.

This week, Vice Media announced a strategy shift on the digital front designed to boost audience engagement and advertising: It eliminated separate web “channels” for topic verticals like Vice News, Noisey and Munchies, folding all of its content into vice.com. It outlined the plans at its Digital Content NewFronts marketing event Wednesday in New York.

Dubuc took the reins at Vice after the company was accused of fostering a bro culture hostile to women. Several execs were ousted over sexual harassment allegations, and last month Vice agreed to pay nearly $1.9 million to settle a class-action lawsuit claiming the company routinely paid women employees less than men.

At the NewFronts presentation this week, Dubuc said she joined Vice about 11 months ago not to provide “adult supervision” but because she was inspired by the vision of Shane Smith, exec chairman and former CEO. “Change and evolution are in our DNA, thanks to Papa Shane,” she said gesturing to Smith, who was seated in the audience.

Also at the event, Dom Delport, Vice’s president of international and chief revenue officer who joined the company a year ago, said the company would exclude traffic from third-party affiliated sites from Vice Media’s overall comScore metrics, effective May 15. He said the digital media business was suffering from inconsistent metrics and a lack of transparency in measurement.

According to Delport, based on the company’s own calculations, Vice has a global digital audience of 300 million monthly users across its owned-and-operated properties as well as platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. That includes 110 million monthly users in the U.S., he said. Those numbers represent unduplicated audience reach, according to Delport.

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